The lake spread out before him endlessly. He took this moment in. He was small and insignificant compared to the lake, and that didn’t feel wrong. The lake wasn’t trying to dominate him. It just emphasized a truth; that there was so much more to life than this one rocky shore. So long as you could move beyond it.
The waves beat softly against him. Poignant message aside, how did he move from this shore? He was still the same person; the freak that his family hated. He was still letting people down. It was still all his fault.
He was so tired of being wrong! Even when he was trying to be a better person, he was a wrong. Had his family been right all this time? Had he simply been born wrong? Was there nothing he could do to change that?
“Can I interrupt?” Rohk’s golden voice reached out to him.
He smiled in welcome, knowing he should not. But, Rohk had come!
“Of course,” he shifted over to make room for Rohk on his boulder.
“What thoughts are in you?” Rohk asked as he took the proffered seat.
He paused after inhaling in preparation to speak. He had thought to apologize, but Rohk had come despite being upset. Or perhaps he wasn’t upset at all. Which begged the question in Armas’ mind, of why wasn’t he?
“Are you upset?” he couldn’t believe those words came from his mouth.
“Upset?” Rohk questioned either the word or the reasoning.
Armas wasn’t sure which. “I passed out and held you up. The others said you were upset. I’m sorry!”
The apology slipped out even as Rohk was shaking his head. “Think not of others speak. And sorry not of more. Sick you’ve been and sick you’ll be for time yet.”
More than Rohk knew, those words were true. But Armas’ illnesses wouldn’t pass with time as Rohk thought. And maybe it was better to let him know that now. So long as Rohk didn’t feel responsible for Armas like his family had. The only reason they’d ever kept him around was simply because they had felt responsible for his actions. Would Rohk too feel he had to keep Armas around?
“Do you feel responsible for me?”
“No,” Rohk laughed easily without pause. “Leading a clan, this has taught me much. Most important that not to be responsible for another, only to another.”
He considered this but failed to see the distinction, “I don’t understand. Is that not the same?”
“I must lead them, do what is best, but their actions are theirs. Old saying goes, a horse can be led to water.”
“But it cannot be made to drink,” Armas finished for he had heard this saying before, though had never placed any thought to it. It seemed one of those ridiculous things people overstated. “I finally get that. We are responsible to ensure the horse has access to water, but the choice is the horse’s on whether he’ll drink. I can’t make him.”
“Exactly,” Rohk’s smile was enchanting.
“I wish I would have figured that out sooner,” he sighed with a bitter smile. “Or that my family would have figured it out.”
“As with the horse,” Rohk trailed off with a shrug of his strong shoulders.
“I cannot make them see or do what they wish not to,” Armas completed. “Thank you.”
“When we see that others we cannot be responsible for,” Rohk struggled to find the right words.
Armas felt that he saw Rohk’s goal and so, he finished, “we are released from a burden we cannot carry.”
He had needed to say the words out loud. And it was a release. Every act his family had performed, every punishment dealt, every insulting word uttered in anger; these were theirs to own, not his. At birth his path had been set by his parents. And when he had failed to follow that path he was met with anger. They had tried ridicule and force, believing it to be the answer. But it wasn’t. They could no more change him than he could change their thinking.
“I feel like I’ve grown up overnight, being with you. The clan,” he quickly amended with a blush.
He forced his thoughts back to this pivotal truth. It was never his family’s responsibility to change him. Nor his responsibility to change them. And since they were now in his past, it could not be changed anyhow. There was only the future now.
“I’m sorry,” he held Rohk’s gaze, “that I didn’t let you know I needed help.”
He could make excuses for why he hadn’t reached out for help, but a reason didn’t change his actions. And so, he apologized only for failing to do what Rohk had asked of him.
Rohk smiled, “a better man than klan ozhak, you are. Thank you. Accept you I do.”
The guilt lifted from his shoulders, excitement lifted his smile. For a moment. A better man he wanted to be. But, a new emotion began to settle in, this one more toxic than guilt. He stared out over the water as he confessed to Rohk, “I hate them; my klan ozhak.”
“Hate is feeling of hurt,” was the soft reply. There was no judgement in Rohk’s tone, no condescension either.
But he didn’t want to live life hating them. He looked over at Rohk, “but I don’t want to be angry now. They’re gone. And hate won’t change what was.”
Rohk, as was his way with Armas, opened up without being asked to.
“Picio has taught that to release emotion is to experience it,” Rohk couldn’t look him in the eyes. “A lesson I have not yet learned.”
There was a story behind those words. He wanted to ask but Rohk wasn’t telling more. His eyes said that he was closed off from a past that was painful. And so, although Armas wanted to ask, he understood the desire to run from the past. He felt the urge to touch Rohk, to let him know that he sympathized. And yet, he knew he could not. And so, he nodded instead and said nothing. He stared down upon the water.
They lapsed into silence. The water hit their feet and the breeze picked up, playing at their long hair. Rohk’s was much longer than his, and he wondered if he should try to grow his out. He liked long hair on men. The right man could pull the look off in a spectacular way. Could he? Like other things, he would try this too.
They were sitting so close to one another. Barely a finger width separated their hands. He could touch Rohk, if only he had the courage. Or the right. It was wrong because he was not worthy of Rohk, because Rohk didn’t have an interest, and because he was simply wrong! It didn’t stop him from liking the man, or from being excited to be sitting next to him.
He glanced at the silent man and was surprised to see a ridge resting on his nose between his eyes which were intensely looking out at the water. It wasn’t a far look from the one Rohk generally had. But something about it seemed almost pensive.
“What’s wrong?” he asked softly, worried about the concerns that weighed on Rohk.
The answer did not come quickly, allowing thoughts to run wild. Was Rohk uncomfortable sitting this close to Armas? Was he somehow aware of the thoughts going through Armas’ mind? Was he bothered by Armas and was finding it hard to tell him this?
“I find that…a kiss I want. Of you,” Rohk confessed, his eyes finally finding Armas.
In a breath, the world stopped moving! The words he longed to hear were being uttered, and his instinct was to run away like a coward. Was he being tested? Would his family appear if he gave in to his desires? Bad things happened when he followed his heart. How could he deny that? What Rohk said he wanted was impossible!
“Men don’t kiss men,” he hated these words coming from his lips.
Rohk looked at him with confusion, “clan of yours talking that is.”
And he was right, but how did Rohk know this about him? Hadn’t he kept his dirty secret hidden well enough? Was he transparent to that extent? Would Rohk be disappointed? Repulsed? Angry?
He needed to ask Rohk all of this, but his voice was locked within his throat.
“Know you not?” Rohk asked with the smallest of sad smiles.
Mutely he shook his head.
“Spoke you once of your family’s anger when a boy you kissed.”
He’d told Rohk about that? Shock coursed through him, for he could not remember that at all! “I told you?”
Rohk nodded, “past the lake, found you when you to seek death.”
Mouth agape, Armas stared out at the water, “I… tried to kill myself?”
“Fever sick,” Rohk pointed out kindly.
He shook his head as he looked at Rohk, “my family has told me so often that I should. I just never thought I’d have the strength to…”
Rohk cut him off, his hand over Armas’ and fear lighting his eyes, “strength not to die. Strength only in living.”
Slowly, and with pain in his heart, he pulled his hand away, “you don’t understand.”
“Klan ozhak of narrow mind.” Rohk continued, “once told you, I did, that love kiss of a woman holds no interest to me. Not all of narrow mind, Armas.”
Rohk…Rohk wasn’t attracted to women? How did he not remember that confession? How could he not have known? Did Rohk feel embarrassed? Was he ashamed? Fear for Rohk coursed through him like a waterfall, pulling him into action.
But he was at a loss for words, “how?”
Rohk actually laughed a little at that, “how is, klan ozhak can hate so? How is, they can love an opposite so?”
“An opposite?” he softly questioned.
Rohk explained, “in DEvak, way it has been to seek partnership of those of same. Man to man, equal to equal.”
“But your parents?” the question was inarticulate.
“Picio, Wani?” Rohk questioned the word and Armas nodded. “Stand up to Wani? She is force, and equal to Picio. Maybe better at force, but equal in kindness.”
Rohk had laughed at that last line.
“But the common they are not,” Rohk explained.
Armas shook his head for all the pairs in their clan were male to female. He expressed his confusion, “but Rola and Idan, Kassa and Ruanya, Eurick and Anqui,” he questioned.
“Scorned in clan for love of opposite. Considered less, though is not so. Anchin alone now because orokor wished his partner dead. But was time when Anchin found pair in same.”
“That’s why you left DEvak, because they’re different?” he was having a hard time understanding.
“To keep them from those that will harm,” Rohk looked pointedly at Armas’ leg. “Think you less of them, knowing they are hated?”
Armas was quick to shake his head, “of course not! They are kind, wonderful people.”
“Yet, you feel less,” Rohk pointed out.
“But it’s different,” he looked away knowing he could not consider himself the same as the clan.
“Hoped, I was, to find so. But the klan ozhak of you, how are they different from DEvak we left?” Rohk’s words were soft and powerful.
“I don’t know, but,” Armas’ shoulders fell as he closed in on himself. He was trying to understand Rohk and the differences that did not separate them. But years of knowing the truth about himself couldn’t change in a single conversation. He had no right to think anything good about himself.
“Sorry I am,” Rohk looked away when the silence went on for too long. He would leave and that would be the end of it. Rohk would never speak of this moment again, and he would never try a second time to connect to Armas.
That thought prompted action. His left hand touched Rohk’s bicep, “I want to.”
“What?” Rohk was making him say it out loud.
His heart raced, his voice was low, “I want to kiss you. I want to feel that I can, that it’s not wrong.”
“But your clan is here,” Rohk’s hand brushed his forehead and trailed down to his ear. He could only nod. “I would go after them for you.”
It was not an offer to reunite him and his family, though it could be mistaken for that. No, what Rohk offered was a chance to exact revenge on his family. An opportunity to vent the building anger residing within.
He leaned closer to Rohk. The way they touched was almost intimate. And he longed for so much more than just this or the kiss Rohk desired. But he had no right! He would be an idiot to think that he could ever compare to Rohk; to ever be good enough for him.
“What if you knew what they do?” he asked softly.
“What if you knew what I do?” Rohk countered.
He smiled, liking that answer better than any other he could have hoped for. With hope he made a request, “tell me what you see.”
A smile eased the tension resting between Rohk’s eyes. He reclaimed his seat on the rock, this time folding his legs and facing Armas. Boldly Rohk picked up his hand, holding it in his. Armas didn’t pull away. And, it began a conversation that would last all night.
A novel by Selina Elliot